You want to know the truth?  I actually have a pumpkin pie I love better (thank you, Williams-Sonoma).  This was nice, but not the best ever – that’s just the name.  But I’m posting it anyway for the great tips included in the newspaper article.  Who knew?

Virginian-Pilot, Gracious Living section, 11-23-08

 

Serves:  8

Start to finish:  1 hour, 15 minutes

 

Ingredients

1 (9-inch) deep-dish pie crust, bought or homemade

1 (15-oz) can pumpkin purée

¾ cup packed light brown sugar

¾ tsp cinnamon

1½ tsp grated fresh ginger

¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg

¼ tsp salt

3 large eggs

1 egg yolk

1¼ cups heavy whipping cream

 

Directions

  1. Heat the oven to 375 F.  If using a homemade or unformed pie crust, arrange it in a pie pan and crimp the edges.
  2. Place a sheet of parchment paper inside the pie crust, then fill it with enough dry beans, uncooked rice, or pie weights to come  nearly to the top of the pie.  Bake for 15 minutes, then set aside to cool slightly.  Reduce the oven to 350 F.
  3. While the crust is baking, in a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the pumpkin puree, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt.  Heat for 7 minutes, stirring often.
  4. Transfer the pumpkin mixture to a blender or food processor.  Purée for about 10 seconds.  One at a time, add the eggs and egg yolk, pulsing the blender or processor briefly between each.
  5. With the blender or processor running, slowly pour in the cream and purée until well mixed, about another 10 seconds.
  6. Discard the beans and parchment paper from the pie crust.  Slowly pour the filling into the pie crust, then bake for 1 hour, or until the edges are puffed and the center is set and jiggles only slightly.  Cool completely on a rack before cutting.

 

Pumpkin Pie Baking Tips:

 

THE PUMPKIN

Fresh is better, right?  Usually but not for pumpkin pie.

Even top restaurant chefs swear by canned pumpkin.  And it’s not just a matter of ease.  The quality of canned pumpkin generally is excellent, better than most people trying to make pumpkin purée could manage.

Making pumpkin purée is not easy.  The pumpkin must be cut, cleaned, peeled, roasted, puréed, cooked down to remove moisture, then strained to eliminate stringy fibers.  Even after all that, you’ll still probably never get it as smooth as canned.

“People somehow think that fresh is better but it is watery and fibrous and needs to be roasted,” says Jack Bishop, editorial director at Cook’s Illustrated magazine.  Canned “has a better texture, so you get a smoother pie.”

When selecting canned pumpkin, brand doesn’t matter much.  The key is to make sure you buy the can that says 100 percent puréed pumpkin, not the can of “pumpkin pie filling,” which is already spiced.

 

THE SPICES

Avoid the kitchen sink syndrome.  The spices should accentuate the flavor of the pumpkin, not overwhelm it.  the classic combination is cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.  Unlike the pumpkin, this is where freshness counts.

“If they’ve been in the drawer for more than six months, they are going to be stale,” says Dede Wilson, who went in search of the perfect pie for Bon Appetit magazine in 2006.  “If you open the jar and you barely get a scent, they are dead.”

As long as it is fresh, ground cinnamon is fine; no need to grind your own from sticks.  But freshly ground nutmeg and fresh ginger root (instead of the ground powder) help put this pie over the top.  The flavors are much brighter and more nuanced.

And the pumpkin spice blend offered by spice companies?

“I don’t think it’s the end of the world to use pumpkin spice, but the thing is if you do any baking, you are going to have most of these spices in your pantry, anyway,” says Bishop.  “It’s going to be a little fresher tasting.”

 

THE EGGS AND DAIRY

As with any custard, there is a science to the amount of eggs and dairy needed to get the perper texture.  Eggs give the custard body, while the dairy provides a rich creaminess.

Wilson favors a ratio of 1¼ cups of heavy cream and 3 whole eggs to each 15-oz can of pumpkin purée.  We found that an additional egg yolk provided extra body without weighing down the pie.

 

THE METHOD

Conventional pumpkin pie recipes call for stirring or whisking together the ingredients, pouring them into a pre-baked crust, then baking the whole thing for about an hour.

Bishop found that doing that first step on the stove – mixing together the pumpkin, sugar, and spices in a saucepan over low heat – produces bolder, more concentrated flavors.

Wilson favors doing the first step in the blender, saying it results in a smoother, less grainy pie.

We liked both ideas, combining the ingredients on the stove and gently cooking them for about 7 minutes, then running the whole thing through a blender or food processor before adding the mixture to the crust and baking.

 

THE CRUST

For a flaky crust worthy of this fantastic filling, homemade is your best bet.

If that’s too much to tackle, prepared crusts will suffice.

But whatever you decide, the crust must be baked on its own (a method called blind baking) before the filling is added.  To do this, line the crust with parchment paper, fill it with dry beans, baking pebbles, or uncooked rice, then bake at 375 F for 15 minutes.

And don’t forget to add some fanciful flourishes to spruce up your pie, especially if you aren’t an expert at forming the perfect pinched edging.  Roll out an extra portion of pie dough, then use a small cookie cutter to cut shapes, such as leaves.  Arrange these shapes along the edge of the pie to form a decorative edging that masks all manner of crust maladies.  This also works to disguise those machine-crimped edges of purchased preformed pie crusts.

 

PIE TIPS

Be sure to let the pie cool completely before slicing.  And for the cleanest cuts, use a knife briefly heated under hot water and wiped clean between cuts.  The filling and crust can be prepared a day ahead, then assembled just before cooking.

If using a preformed crust (the kind sold in the foil pie plates) you will have about ¼ cup excess filling (these crusts tend not to be as deep as homemade).  The excess can be baked in a buttered ramekin for a snack-size pumpkin custard.